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I have been asked to fly with a client of mine, but I don't know his
safety record or history and I don't want to ask him. How can I get
the safety information I need to make a decision on whether to fly
with him? Both his personal record and his registered plane records.
-- Robert Beard, October 17, 2012
Unless his plane has been in a crash I don't think the FAA aircraft registry will have any information about it. For him, check the FAA airmen registry. You will find out what certificates and ratings he holds and when he last received an FAA medical. http://www.faa.gov/pilots/lic_cert/pria/requesting/ says that a "third party" (anyone?) can request a record of accidents or incidents. Aviation accidents are very rare so don't expect to find much.
It might be more useful to ask him about recurrent training. The safest pilots tend to do some training every 6- 12 months. They get new certificates or ratings every few years until they've reached the "Eagle Scout" level. It wouldn't be offensive for you to ask him about his passion for flying and learning. Tell him that you're interested in flight training (which clearly you are!) and would like to ride back seat when he next goes up for training.
Finally just ask him how often he flies. If he is going up every week then he is probably pretty safe.
-- Philip Greenspun, November 6, 2012
To each their own, but I don't place much faith in what any database will tell you. Someone with a PP cert. in an old aircraft may be a very careful, safe, detail oriented, pilot and someone with an ATP in a 2012 aircraft may not. I have flown with both kinds.
I would consider what you know of him as a person as a primary factor. I wouldn't fly with someone that has poor qualities for a pilot (risk taker, aggressive, rule bender, etc.). If I didn't know him well enough to make that judgment, I would find a polite excuse not to fly with him. I am deathly afraid of small aircraft works pretty well (so he won't keep asking).
-- Alex Baker, December 26, 2012